I don't, alas, have a recommendation, but congrats on an amazing wife! Mine loves listening, but more for dynamic contrasts and PRaT than sound-staging, which for some bizarre reason struck me as more of a masculine pursuit. Good to know I'm wrong!
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Consider a in home trial of a larger pair of Ohm Walsh speakers, Walsh 200, 300 or 5 Series 3 or 4 drivers specifically. These are less fussy than most about placement/location and room acoustics and deliver the attributes you're looking for as well to a wide range of listening locations. For two people who want to listen together but can't both fit in the sweet spot of most conventional box designs, these might provide a very unique solution to allow multiple people to listen concurrently without compromise due to room acoustics and listening location.
Read about them at www.ohmspeakers.com.
Occasionally, Ohm provides new drivers in refurbished cabinets at lower cost within your price range. That's how I got the F-5s in my system.
Dynaudio, Totem, Triangle and PSB are other more conventional designs worth hearing as well if you'd just both rather snuggle together in the sweet spot. There is something to be said for that as well!
I think one candidate should be Vandersteen. The model would depend on your willingness to buy used or new but look at both the 2 and 3 series. With their time/phase coherent and minimal diffraction designs, they can excel in imaging and soundstaging. Also, your generous room dimensions suggests they could be set up properly - distance from front and side walls being a key to maximizing imaging.
Their only drawback would be the lack of compatibility with your lower output amps (that some don't approve of the spartan appearance may not be a problem in your situation, particularly once you hear them). I would think a tube amp should be at least 50-60 wpc and that might only work best with the addition of the Vandy subwoofers (being self powered, they reduce the main power requirements).
VonSchewikert VR4JRs can be purchased used in your range and they meet your wife's criteria, which are also mine. These work especially well since the have a wide sweet spot, wide enough for two listeners side-by-side. They image especially well if you add front tweeter diffraction dissapators for about $50. like the ones reviewed here:
Along with the VR4JRs rear-facing tweeter set to minimum you have a wide, deep soundstage, holographic imaging and deep, powerful articulate bass.
I'm running tubes as well and this is as close as I've heard at home to a live performance in my living room. And, as good as it sounds in the room, from the adjoining room it sounds like you've got someone gigging in the next room.
The *best* imaging speakers I ever heard were the old KEF 105, 105.2, and 103.2s - razor-sharp. However, you had to lock your head in a vice for it. And they needed a boatload of power to get the bass you're looking for.
For newer speakers, the Gallos Reference 3.1s will do everything you're looking to do. And they're not fussy about their placement or yours, extremely wide sweet-spot. The icing on the cake is that you can snag 'em for about 1/2 of you budget right here on Audiogon.
Read the reviews, they really are "all that"!
If you haven't tried them, Quad 63's are my wife's favorite speaker. Not loud and not deep but great in the mid-range so it is easy(ier) to deal with the rest. My wife has great ears and runs for cover with certain tweeters. The amps you mention would work great. I ran my 63's with different subs and was quite pleased. Went to Wison WP7's for big$ and they are better overall but we still both miss what the Quads do best.
I asked her to marry me on the day she said--and I quote--"I don't care what it looks like, as long as it sounds good."
I'm at a point where I even care what it looks like, but this has made my day. (Please spare me the flames of being sexist,etc. - I'm not).
It's great when a couple can share a love of music.. Gtrmkr, you are one fortunate dude and I'm sincerely happy for you. Good luck in your search!
Women love English speakers.
Check out ATC. In hundreds of recording environments where sound stage, imaging and seperation matter. Your favorite album was probably mixed on these. Totally neutral and will dig out the details. ATC 7s and 11s are wonderful but require ample amplification. 20s are actives--you can sell off most of your rig.
Second choice: Harbeth or Tannoys.
Totem Forests will be in your price range- particularly used. I made some toe in adjustments recently and was amazed with a large step change improvement in what I already thought was very good imaging. Sweet spot is small however. Don't know your amps so don't know what kind of power you have at hand. They aren't real efficient. Might be worth at least auditioning them if convenient. BTW - I concur...you are fortunate!
Maybe you guys should take a vacation to an audio show (CES, Montreal, etc) and do some listening. I really liked Green Mountain Audio's top of the line speakers for imaging - maybe used? Then there is the Innersound line, and the new speakers from their founder - but I think this is good imaging for one person not two! Please let us know what you come up with.
A bit of room treatment and the perfect setup will do more for imaging than you or your partner can imagine. There are many sources for info. The absolute best is having a magician come to your house and do it before your eyes and ears. Magicians do exist. You might want to check out books, though, and here's one :
Other than that, Triangle speakers are great imagers. So are my Meadowlarks ( sadly, the company has closed ). But again, setup, setup, setup is what really matters.
I would heartily second the horn speaker recommendation, particularly with your low-powered tube amps. I have a pair of used Klipsch Cornwalls that I bought here a year ago for only $600. You can find the big Klipschorns used in that price range sometimes. I would also recommend Altecs, and there are many newer horn speaker designers out there as well, though many of them will be above your range. Especially if you like classical or vocal music, there is nothing like horn speakers driven by low-powered tube amps.
If the geometry works, Klipschorns shoudl fit the bill. You will want to have the crossovers rebuilt and maybe add Tractrix midrange horns and a different tweeter (the Crites tweeter and lower 4500 hz crossover is supposed to be great).
Horns will image and if set up right you will get your bass from only a few watts.
Check out the Klipsch Forum.
I've been led to believe that horn designs are not champs at 3-d or holographic imaging, if that is what we're talking about.
This is based on what I have gathered from others on A'gon.
I have not logged many hours listening to horn designs recently though so frankly I do not know if this is true or not.
Just passing it along to make of what one will.
Wow -- can't thank everyone enough for your responses. Some really great suggestions offered that I hadn't thought of.
We've tried a little bit of most of the various "types" (hybrid horns ala Klipsch Forte, Frazier; BLH and MLTL iterations of single-driver Fostex-based systems; OB's of various stripes; and multi-driver boxes, big ones and little ones, eg., Spendor, Audio Note, Proac, etc. There are so many versions and implemetations that it's bewildering and, as we all know, impossible to try them all.
The search is certainly part of the fun, but I sure would like to find something that made her giddy consistently (I like it when she's giddy ;-) You all have given me some excellent new avenues to travel down, and I'm giving serious thought to which one I turn down next.
I'll post an update on any new additions to our system, and my wife's "giddiness" scale.
Thanks again to all who've taken the time to respond--I really do appreciate it.
I have recently purchased a pair of Altec Model 19s (made in 1978). I am surprised by the sophistication of the crossover. The speakers sound great too. They are a bit thin in the high frequencies, but I am trying to figure out a way to correct for that. One possible way is to add supertweeters. Another might be to change the HF driver (one suggestion has been to switch the existing HF drivers for BMS 4552s + an L-pad (the BMS drivers are a bit more efficient).
Another possibility would be to add a Behringer DEQ2496 to the mix. If you were able to do both the HF driver change AND the Behringer, you'd spend less than $3k (plus a bit of time spent (the BMS drivers+L-pad should be quite easy, the Behringer probably has a learning curve)). I don't know the US market price for Altec 19s but I expect them to be in the $1k-$2k range.
The Altec M19s are "big" in size and in sound. I bought mine for about $1200 and I have never seen or heard a pair of speakers, new or used, that I would rather have for the money (given my choice of amps on this system, which is low-power tubes). Are they perfect? No, but they are a lot of speaker for the money on a turnkey basis, and probably can be modded/improved (I bet a good DIYer could have a ball with these - improving some of the parts in the XOs, changing to the BMS HF drivers, adding supertweeters, bracing the cabinet) for not much money. I like them because they are highly efficient, giving me a lot of flexibility on amps. Plus, they have a fan club so are likely going to be easy to sell if I ever do.
The Audioheritage website is a large and friendly community of Altec users. If you say where you are and that you would like to listen to a pair somewhere close, I bet you could find someone who would offer a listening session.
I bet they work in bigger rooms like yours better than they work in small rooms (like where mine are). So far I have found the XOs to be surprisingly supple. I will probably end up getting a Behringer to see how I can tame the speaker/room interaction.